Oxford Diocesan resources review

  • Reviews of Talking about Dying

In reading this book I learned to listen to the authors rather than prejudge them for their pronouncements on theological issues with which I disagree.

The publication was born out of the deeply painful and personal experience of Philip Giddings, who has been twice widowed and has lost a child. His second wife died suddenly while he was writing this book. Elaine Sugden’s experience as a cancer doctor for both adults and children, Martin Down as parish priest and author and Gareth Tuckwell as the former Medical Director and CEO of Burrswood make this an insightful book which is well worth reading.

The taboo of talking about dying is addressed in a series of chapters on dying and bereavement care. The book is punctuated with short anecdotes which draw our attention to different situations of death which may face us. Elaine Sugden helps us to consider difficult diagnosis, including a good discussion on the difficult decisions patients have to make around continuing /ceasing treatments. She writes three good chapters covering infant death, old age and suicide.

The latter I can say, as someone bereaved by suicide, was spot on and I was pleased to see it there. Talking to children about their own impending death and the death of siblings, parents or other relatives and friends is very tough. Elaine Sugden speaks out of her own clinical experience and gives some wise guidance.

Martin Down contributes a good apologetic for the resurrection which, as I would expect, comes from a traditional conservative evangelical position. His chapter on fear is very helpful making the distinction between fear of death and fear of dying. This is a very nuanced issue which I encounter regularly in the hospice where I work. He also makes a very practical contribution to thinking about things like wills, planning a funeral and registering a death.
Gareth Tuckwell’s chapter on praying for healing is a pleasant surprise in a book entitled ‘Talking about dying.’ He makes some excellent observations on the subject and deals with the problematic tension between a desire for physical healing and the reality of mortality. He gives no trite answers, just a sharing of a wealth of experience and reflection on a difficult issue. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to those of all faiths and none. It is thought provoking and reminds me of one of the mantras a colleague uses:

‘for too long people have seen dying as a medical event with spiritual implications when in reality dying is a deeply spiritual event with some medical implications.’
The Revd Graham Sykes, Chaplain